Debate Over Lighting Darden Towe Field

There’s a dispute over whether to light up the softball fields at Darden Towe Park, Rachana Dixit writes in the Progress. The YMCA going in at McIntire means the end of their (lit) softball fields, so there’s a lot of interest in spending $500-$700k to add lighting to the three fields at Darden Towe. Supporters include softball players, while opponents include folks who live around the park and those who aren’t thrilled with spending over a half million dollars on this when we’re facing a budget shortfall. Both the city and the county will hold hearings on the jointly-operated park in October.

48 thoughts on “Debate Over Lighting Darden Towe Field”

  1. This week, over 130 soccer games will be played without any lights. Over 250 soccer practices will be completed without any lights.

    Toss into the mix lacrosse, football, field hockey, Ultimate, and you have far more need for multipurpose fields than diamonds prefer, which, for years have managed without any lights.

    And yet, those sports seem to do fine figuring out a way to make it happen without lights. This does include the adult league games, which are played spring, summer and fall and during weekdays in some of the seasons.

    I see no reason to spend money on lights, electricity on the lights or add to the light pollution extending into the outlying areas for something that every other sport, female/males/youth/adult has managed to address.

  2. There are very few houses that would be affected by the lights put up at Darden-Towe, which by the way would be off no later than 10-10:30pm (no games start after 9).
    What is the big deal about this.
    Let’s see, a soccer ball is about 4 times as large as a softball and can be seen quite well even after there is no sunlight left, not so with a softball.
    As much money as they are spending on the new fields at McIntire, I see no reason they can’t spend 1/16 of that on the lights at Darden-Towe.
    You can play a soccer league on a patch of grass (insert goal at either end).
    Not so with softball.

  3. As someone who tries to reserve both types of fields, let me tell you that there is a shortage of *both*. Every season is a scheduling nightmare for me.

    Of course, the county voted against the East Pantops complex, which would have provided more fields, as well as some indoor ones.

    Of course, the YMCA has to be built exactly where it is, which is going to result in 3 holes of a 9 hole golf course being taken away. So, yeah, there’s a pointless 6 hole course left. Why not knock out the entire course, put the YMCA over there, and make them pay for the land grading, especially since they got such a sweetheart deal anyway? Then you have the softball fields, the multi-purpose fields, and a brand new YMCA all on one place.

    I’m going to stop now before I say something I regret.

  4. I remember playing baseball in whatever open lot there was around the area when I was a kid. Really, either sport can be played in an open patch of grass. Heck, you need goals for soccer and…bases for softball. Only one of these things fit in my gym bag. So that argument can go either way. And no one plays soccer, or lax,or fotball in the dark. Silly point. Why not just have the softball teams play on weekends and early evening like everyone else, save the money and the wasted utilities?

    What specifically justifies softball being more special than other sports?

    Additionally, if no lights were promised by the government, they really need more to justify erosion of confidence than this.

    I draw the airport analogy. Move next to an airport and you have little room to complain about noise. Airport moves next to your house, you have all the rights to speak your mind and have it listened to fully; especially if the local government promised you that none would be built there.

    And the YMCA deal is not as done as we all might think.

  5. The tax payers put expensive lighting in at McIntire Parks years ago and they should stay lit softball fields. Put the artificial turf at Towe and, if danpri is right, don’t light it. Simple solution to a problem created by city staff. Also, the majority of softball players are adults that work during the day when there’s no lighting needed. The lights are there – leave them there. Simple. It’s amazing how we sit around thinking of ways to spend money.

  6. I think this is an example of city employees coming up with change just for the sake of change and having something to do. If danpri is right that there’s all that rectangular field sports being played maybe there’s no need for additional fields, especially since they’re putting them at Belvidere, too.

  7. There are plenty of rectangular fields at Towe Park. No need for lights. The McIntire softball fields need to stay as they are and the lights left at McIntire. Also, a lot of people are forgetting that the YMCA/Boys-Girls acquatic center at McIntire Park will also do away with the picnic shelters which were donated by the local Lions club (back in the 50’s). What a shame. Many, many memorable times have taken place at those shelters.
    The aquatic center needs to be relocated to a different area in McIntire park so that the shelters and softball fields can be preserved as they are now, or better yet, forget the whole idea of a YMCA(boys/girls club) aquatic center. The $11M being spent at Buford for a swimming center is enough.

  8. Still, no one has yet to address the issue of why softball needs lights when other adult sports do not. The adult soccer leagues are not played during lunch breaks. Also, Darden is County and the city needs some of its own fields. And the Darden fields are just overworked and facing major quality issues. I would love to see the howls of protest if the softball fields were played on a slope! Belvedere is a private inititive regarding the fields. So while other sports are using fields during afternoons, evening, weekends, no lights AND funding their own additional fields somehow softball seems to have some inborn feeling of entitlement.

    And you can only play one sport on the diamonds. I just do not see it. Meanwhile, field space is so tight that most teams have to practice on fields at the same time. Love to see the softballers practice two teams to a diamond…and do they even practice? Yet, no games go off during the days on weekends. Why not? The other sports are all starting in the Am on Sat and Sunday. With 1 hour games in softball, you could fit an extra 14 games/field per weekend. FIRST, max out what softball can do, THEN talk to my tax money….

    The swimming is another story. Local swimmers have maxxed out the ability to handle all the required lane hours. Swim teams are practicing at 5AM.(Hey-The softball guys could get a game in before work starts!) The County has zero swim lanes so the city needs to provide lane space for the HS teams. Pools are used for adults lane swim, diving teams, youth swim club travel squads, excersize for seniors, swim lessons, high school teams, synchro and more in an area that needs more lanes. Some youth clubs are having to turn away kids.

    Much of this would be less an issue if the County did as the City did- provided swim lanes and lighted field for its citizens. With one HS they provided two pools. The County has three schools, one AAA size, and no pools. Yet, everyone is busting on the city.

  9. jogger, the Boys & Girls Club will be located at Buford and its clientele will be using the new, swanky aquatics and fitness center put up by the city at Buford. You’re right, it is an $11M acuatics center in addition to the $7M recreation center that the Girls & Boys Club will be erecting (if they can raise the money). The Boys & Girls Club is conducting a fund-raising campaign separate from that of the YMCA, which is proposing to build its own aquatics/fitness/recreation center with the help of the city, county and fundraising efforts. Instead of combining efforts, each organization seems to be going its own way, while competing with each other to serve many of the same children.
    The discussion has been going on for several years, although nothing was clear during that time, and the softballers should have been paying attention when they heard that there were changes coming to McIntire Park. Unfortunately, they mistakenly thaought that the city had their best interests at heart. Again, this is a case where citizens vote people and pay no attention to what they’re doing then complain when they do it. Maybe they’ll learn that the government can not be left alone to make the best decisions; that it takes participation in addition to just voting to get our democracy really working.

  10. Cville Eye- You assume that whats best for the city is the interests of the softballers. Yet, the city has to organize and deal with teams from Greene, Nelson, etc etc. It not like we play a game here and a game there. And it not like those teams actualy pay the “out of area” fees. They just find one guy to have a cville adress and pay the cheaper rate. The city has the interests at heart of those that show them that level of interest. Complaining online about things that have been on the agenda for many council sessions does nothing.

  11. danpri, you’d better believe I know what’s on council’s agenda and when. Want to know about Monday’s meeting? Fees were not mentioned as a reason to tear one perfectly good expensively lit area to have to build exactly the same thing in another area. Stupid and costly. The master plan was presented to council in April and voted on in May. That’s two meetings. One had a public hearing included and the other had the issue included in the Consent Agenda. I don’t know what “…things that have been on the agenda for many council sessions” you’re talking about. I really don’t care who uses those fields. Again, I think its stupid and a waste of tax payer’s money. Apparently, with you as well as so many others around here, money is no object, just spend, spend, spend.

  12. The charlottesville high school swim team does practice at crow pool early in the morning before school. I am sure that if they wanted to practice in the afternoon from 4-5 pm, three lanes could be made available. Most of the time the lanes are not occupied during this period of time in the afternoon at crow. How do I know, because I go to crow during that time on a regular basis.
    Softball is one of the fastest growing adult sports/activities in the country. More and more adults are seeing it as a good way to get in a couple of hours of exercise each week and have fun at the same time.
    You see adults from their teens to their 60’s playing on rec softball teams whereas you hardly ever see adults beyond their late teen playing rec soccer or lacross. Soccer and lacross are for kids whereas softball can be played well into late adulthood.
    Too much emphasis is being placed on swimming by the city P&R Dept. as well as city council when there is no great hue and cry for any increased swimming facilities, i.e. destruction of McIntire Park for a YMCA aquatic facility.

  13. Actually, CHS practices in the afternoon. And how do you squeeze 36 swimmers practice into 3 lanes? I think you might be seeing Albemarle County swimmers.

    And I believe Softball and exercise is an oxymoron… ;-)

    No one has yet answered why the softball games cannnot go on weekend days like others…so we do not have to spend money to add lights, the basis of the posting.

  14. I don’t think you get it danpri. The question is why is the city tearing down perfectly good, expensive lights in order to install the same thing somewhere else for the same purpose? I haven’t heard a sensible answer yet. Where is the sense in it? it doesn’t sound green to me in this so-called green city.

  15. I love to play softball as much as the next guy. We in C-ville have had a great luxury with the adult softball program in place. That said, the adult softball community has also been a good stewart to those fields. Lighting those fields at towe would be a benefit to the area and the negatives really don’t exist. Why is it no problem for UVA to light 6 fields at the law school or for every tennis court in the area to have lights? The lights at Towe Park would also youth programs like youth softball, baseball and football.

    A rectangular field at McIntire would help greatly with CHS’s spring fields demands. They presently have 8 teams trying to practice 3 fields (one field is the stadium which needs its turf replace every year for football season). Although I would miss the softball at McIntire.

  16. “Lighting those fields at towe would be a benefit to the area and the negatives really don’t exist.” There will be a debit in the city’s bank account. Probably about a $1M. Anybody ever heard of an economic downturn?

  17. Agreed. This whole swimming pool evisceration then paying someone else to build a new one — while we give them the land to do it — which, by the way, was the lighted land of softball, so, OOPS!, now we gotta light somewhere else, except, OOPS!, we promised those people who live nearby we wouldn’t put lights up over there BOONDOGGLE is abjectly ridiculous and unnecessarily expensive and it’s hurting all the (city) taxpayers’ pockets. Can we impeach city council?

  18. OOPS! Couldn’t have said it better myself. I don’t think we can impeach council (and I’m not going to look into it) but we’d only vote their clones in anyway. One of the major problems here is that staff got council to think it was looking at the big picture, with incomplete financial information, when it wasn’t looking at the total picture.

  19. No comments on why the YMCA couldn’t be pushed back and make them grade the golf course holes. I’m wondering if city council even *considered* the idea.

    Still, no one has yet to address the issue of why softball needs lights when other adult sports do not. The adult soccer leagues are not played during lunch breaks.

    To my knowledge, many of the adult soccer leagues play on the weekends. The city league runs on Monday.

    and Tuesday.
    and Wednesday.
    and Thursday.

    I’m running a league at McIntire on Friday nights. Sometimes a church league runs there as well.

    What about the weekends? Saturdays and Sundays the fields are normally booked for both youth and adult softball tournaments.

    So, I hope that answers your question.

    When those fields aren’t used, I often try to reserve them for my own sports — we’ve played kickball on those fields, and it’s possible to play other sports there in that outfield. I give the city thousands of dollars in rental fees a year to use their fields, so it’s not like they are just sitting there dead — it’s the extreme opposite.

  20. “Still, no one has yet to address the issue of why softball needs lights when other adult sports do not.” Aren’t football fields, tennis courts and that skateboard park lit? The case for lighting the softball fiels was made over 15 years ago and that’s why they were lit where they were lit. As the population grows, I suspect that more outdoor fields and courts will be lit in order to get maxiumum use rather than buy more land to create more fields.

  21. Chad, I am not sure if you are talking about McIntire Park or not, BUT I live in the neighborhood and walk to the park 3 or 4 times a day (morning, mid-day and evening for exercise) and I have yet to see an organized soccer, lacross, kickball or any other organized adult activity other than softball,being played their. I think you might be putting out some BS.
    During the week days the softball fields are completely vacant until around 5 PM when the softball players start showing up for the first game at 6 PM. and the last game starts at around 9 pm.
    As for the weekends I have seen maybe 5 or six weekend tournaments this summer. The majority of the weekends the feilds are vacant.
    As for swimming at Crow pool I have never seen a 30 member swim team, Charlottesville High or any other area high school swim team practice their. However, when their is the occasional swim meet at crow pool then their are maybe 30 swimmers at the facility.

  22. Jogger- CHS swim team goes from 400-600 PM, every school day during swim season in winter months. 18 girls and 18 boys plus diving team. I think MHS starts their practices at 830, after CYAC. You get a meet and you can easily have 100 swimmers crowding the sides, plus 18 timers, judges, referees and other officials. CYAC had to TURN away youth that wanted to swim. Not good when a small town turns youth away from sports and orgainized activites.

    Regarding adult soccer, during spring and fall the adult leagues have to go on weekends because all the fields are used for practice.

    So, hearing all the arguements it seems two things:
    1. We need more fields for all sports
    2. The money should go first to fields until all fields are maxxed out (Hollymead had soccer all afternoon and neither of the diamonds where in use…)
    3. Softball needs to step up more. Both local soccer leagues have developed and secured their own fields on their own time and money. Private enterprises are working with City hall to increase their ability to handle overwhelming demand. Sounds like its time softball did more than just show up and expect everything that others are doing themselves.

  23. From my house in Pantops, I can see the lights of Scott Stadium, Klockner, McIntire, and St Anne’s at night. Adding lights at Darden isn’t going to bother me one bit – but I think the plan does not go far enough. I think they should put lights on the DT softball fields AND the soccer fields. DT is a lot of real estate just for daytime use. Hope to see those lights soon.

  24. It is very obvious that Jogger knows very little about swimming. Also, no one mentioned the new facility at Fairview for swimming. The plan is for 12 new lanes (net gain of 6 indoor) and the county is considering funding a portion of it. As pointed out, the county is woefully behind in stepping up to thier obligation to provide swim lanes for their 3 HS teams. AHS practices from 9:30 to 10:30 p.m. at ACAC and the kids do not get home until around 11 on school nights.

    With Smith gone and Crowe to follow (once Smith is re-opened), the region will be tight for swim lanes. The Fairview project will be a great addition (should open by fall 09) and if they YMCA is ever built, swimming will probably have adequate facilities.

  25. First of all, the DP story above that started all this does not a give a full accounting of what went on at the meeting, and completely misses the spirit of it…see the Hook story by Stephanie Garcia:

    Also, there seems to be some confusion about what this Mcintire/YMCA project involves, and how it evolved, and where it stands….I’ll post here what I posted over at the Hook:

    …..the Master Plan for McInire park does not involve the golf course across the tracks…it involves the 3 to 5 acres occupied by the softball fields and the area where the picnic shelters are.

    In fact, if you look at the documents that the city has online about it its quite interesting….how quickly this became such an ambitious project….

    When the YMCA first responded to the City’s RFP for a new facility at McInire in October 2007, they only wanted to lease an area occupied by one of the two softball fields. By December 2007, the lease include the entire 3-5 acres in the area of the softball fields and noted “In no event shall the Leased Property include the existing picnic shelters, playground area, concession/restrooms building, parking areas or McIntire Little League baseball.” In May 2008, after the city completed its Master Plan for McIntire Park, the Y had been moved to the area where the picnic areas are and the City had added the rectangular field that is to replace the softball fields. As mentioned before in the Hook’s coverage, the Y really has nothing to do with the loss of the softball fields….in fact, under the current plan, the Y and the softball fields could co-exist if it were not for the City’s plan for the big rectangular field.

    You can check out what things are going to look like here:

    Go to the bottom of the page and there’s a pretty detailed rendering….wow, lots of parking. And a bicycle bridge over the train tracks

  26. Jogger,

    No, I don’t think the fields are used before 5pm on the weekdays. I’ve tried multiple times to be able to get the fields on the weekend (as well as the Darden Towe fields), and they are always booked for tournaments. Whether the tournaments get cancelled or not, I don’t know, but I wasn’t even able to get anything for next year, that’s how booked it is.

    We chose to do a softball league on Friday night, but we had the option of doing kickball if we wanted, and I know some teams in my league go out there and practice occasionally.


    I was mistaken — the YMCA isn’t knocking out the golf course holes, the Meadowcreek Parkway is. Bottom line, you have a worthless 6 hole golf course left. That’s land that could be graded and used for recreational use. Instead of reconstructing softball fields, it obviously makes more sense to put the multipurpose field(s) there.

  27. Looking at the city’s web page for the Western McIntire Park Plan – 2008 (, it appears the draft plan was introduced to the public on May 6, 2008 and presented to council on May 19, 2008. Having only one reading required by council, the resolution to endorse the plan passed that very night by a vote of 4-0. Mr. Huja was absent. There does not appear to have been a public hearing recorded in the minutes of that evening. “She [Jennifer McKeever, vice-chairman of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board]said she is proud of the community driven process.” Nowhere in the minutes is it stated that the two softball fields would be deleted. This decision-making process seems to be typical of the way council functions. They don’t seem to like deliberate thinking.

  28. Danpri, I thought the YMCA was a done deal. What information do you have? If there were any way to stop the YMCA, I wish we could. The Park is not the appropriate place for a large gym. That building should be built on some urban lot that needs redevelopment, not greenspace! How such a greay city has come to the point of building a large gym and a road in their one, large park is beyond me.

  29. “How such a greay city has come to the point of building a large gym and a road in their one, large park is beyond me.”
    It’s my understanding that the first road to go through McIntire Park was the Bypass, creating the plot for Greenleaf Park and Walker School. And I believe Charlottesville High School was built on park land, too.

  30. Then our history with this park is even worse then I realized. Though putting a school in a park doesn’t seem nearly as bad as the issues facing today’s McIntire Park.

  31. Okay, HERE’S why the softball fields need to be lighted. The city’s softball league is enormous. During the season, they typically use 2 McIntire fields, 2 PVCC fields, and 3 Towe fields. At McIntire and PVCC, which are lit, there are typically games at 6, 7, 8, and 9 PM on EACH field. At Towe, which isn’t lit there are typically games at 6 and 7. Two teams per game, usually at least 12 players per team. That adds up to 38 teams, or more than 456 players PER NIGHT. Extrapolate that over 5 weeknights (typically the weekends are open, used for rain makeups when necessary) and you’re talking about 190 teams and over 2,280 players (granted – some play on more than one team/league, but most teams have more than 12 players, too). Each of these teams pays to use these fields. Each game lasts one hour.

    This does not account for the untold $ spent at local restaurants/bars after the games. This amount surely exceeds the playing fees tenfold.

    Now, if anybody thinks that lighting the soccer fields will serve anywhere near that many tax-paying citizens I’d love to hear about it.

    Removing the softball fields from McIntire is one of the more shortsighted moves the city government has made in many years – and that’s saying something. If the County has the resources they ought to build a couple of fields, light them, and take over the softball leagues – CLEARLY the city isn’t interested in keeping them.

  32. Big_Al, you’ve also provided the rationale for the city’s keeping the softball fields at McIntire.

  33. Just wanted to thank Big Al for doing the math and add two things:

    1. I think the leagues run Monday-Thursday and do not include Fridays. Chad Day runs a league somewhere on Friday nights.

    2. The city league also uses the field at Washington Park under the same conditions as Towe.

  34. Stormy is correct. I’m running a Friday night league at McIntire Park (both fields) — previously the fields had been used by a church league that had run for a significant length of time, so the historical field usage on Friday nights is certainly there.

  35. I wonder if council was aware of the popularity of the softball fields before it made its decision. When I attended one of the community meetings way before the McIntire Plan mentioned the YMCA, I left with the impression that the use of the softball fields had declined significantly since the seventies. I should have asked for data. I had an impression that the concensus of the groups was being carefully guided to a predetermined conclusion (centralized facility vs. neighborhood based facilities) that I didn’t bother to go back.

  36. I’m not sure what profit the city turns off of softball, but it’s easy to put together the income: ~200 teams x $600 .. of course, the city puts a ton into field maintainence costs, work crews, etc.

    Rectangular fields would be used primarily by SOCA I suppose, which I’m sure pays some fees to the city, but it’s hard for me to believe it’d be enough to offset softball revenue.

  37. From the SOCA website:

    “The Soccer Organization of Charlottesville-Albemarle is proud to provide superb programming and opportunities for over 3,500 youth and adult soccer enthusiasts each season.”

    That’s must mean about 200 teams. I’m guessing that only ~500 players play travel soccer, which means the rest are playing all their games in the Charlottesville area. All games on Saturday and Sunday.

    And there are other leagues, such as MonU…

  38. Chad Day, what former mayor, still on city council, is a member of SOCA.
    If 3,500 people have been playing soccer just on Saturdays and Sundays, then they have a bunch of fields available to them other than McIntire Park. What irritates me is how the city has effectively pitted one group of people against another as an either-or situation while spending a great deal of money. Face it, council spent no time considering the ins and outs of this proposition because they made their decision based solely on the fact of “Who’s asking.” The draft was made available to the public on May 6. Council received the final proposal on Thursday, May 15 and voted to endorse on Monday, May 19. It’s just another million dollar decisions made over the weekend – great work – just the kind of decision that is made by people who shouldn’t be making decisions.

  39. What still bugs me is that the East Pantops plan got rejected, which would have provided rectangular fields as well as a great indoor soccer facility, and no one can seem to explain what will happen with the remaining 6 holes of the golf course once the Meadowcreek Parkway goes through, and why that land couldn’t be graded and used.

    It’s just .. it seems that there were options there, and they were either ignored, rejected, or not even thought of. I’m not sure which is worse.

  40. “It’s just .. it seems that there were options there, and they were either ignored, rejected, or not even thought of. I’m not sure which is worse.” All of the above.
    The Pantops thing came before the BoS. The McIntire thing came before the city. The Towe thing comes before both. I guess at some point the county and city will consult with each other since both will be asked to contribute to this expensive project. Since the city has the extensive recreation department used by many county residents and the county has the lakes used by many of the city residents, maybe they’ll have enough sense to come up with a long-range parks and recreation regional plan – NOT.

  41. A couple of points:

    According to advertisements that I’ve seen in Baseball Journals, the cost for lighting a ball field is between 15 and 20 thousand dollars. Even if they install the very best lighting, the cost for 3 field should be around $100,000 (not 1 million).

    As for the rectangular field turf field, I know the youth football teams in the city would use it along with lacrosse and field hockey (not just soccer). It is very difficult to have practice on weeknights in Oct-Nov without lights.

  42. “According to advertisements that I’ve seen in Baseball Journals, the cost for lighting a ball field is between 15 and 20 thousand dollars.” Please send the ads to the city. I don’t know where all those hundreds of thousands of dollars went.

  43. webster52, Charlottesville lighting softball fields at McIntire Park.&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us says that they are spending $150,000 to light one girls’ softball field at CHS. The new field lighting will also have to have parking lighting also as they did in McIntire. Didn’t they also light the access road into McIntire so that people wouldn’t get run over at night?

  44. Dave McNair, if the results are so predictable, wouldn’t you thing that council would have foreseen it? I do too. That’s why I think driving the softballers out of the parks was an intending consequence.

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